Is postmortem punishment compatible with authentic morality?


Ethics is the logic of proper action. Morality is the logic of proper motivation. Lets say there’s someone who does something that really angers you. You tell yourself that if your government wouldn’t imprison you for killing the offender, you would kill him. In such an instance, in refraining from murdering the offender, it can be said you acted ethically, but not morally. Now lets say you’re told have to do X, Y, and Z or else you’ll be punished postmortem in hell by God. Is it possible for you to behave morally in light of this revelation?

I think without hesitation most evangelicals would say “Yes.” But is it really possible? How can you know for sure that you would, for example, give alms to the poor if you weren’t worried about going to hell for not doing it? Say you tell yourself that you have two motivations for giving alms to the poor: (a) you want to escape suffering in the afterlife, and (b) you want the poor experience happiness. A is a selfish motivation, b is a selfless motivation. If you’re motivated by both a and b, you’re performing an act that is simultaneously selfish and selfless. Is that possible?


There is a lot of argument about how to define “ethics” vs. “morality”. Some people treat them as synonyms, as both meaning the same thing. Other people think there is some difference in meaning. But there is very little agreement among those people on what the actual difference is. Where do you get these particular definitions from?

In Catholicism, there is a distinction drawn between “contrition” and “attrition”. “Contrition” means genuine sorrow for one’s sins, detesting them for their inherent wrongness, not out of any fear of punishment. “Attrition” is sorrow for one’s sins, not out of any sense of their inherent wrongness, but simply from fear of being punished. The traditional Catholic view is that only contrition is true repentance, and when we have just attrition we are not truly repentant, and God only forgives the truly repentant.

Personally, I don’t think hell is primarily about “punishment”. I think it is actually about healing the disruption of bonds between human beings caused by sin. The murderer has disrupted the bonds between them and their victim and the victim’s family and friends. The only way for that bond to be healed, is for the murderer to be forced to confront and experience for themselves the pain they inflicted upon others. And that is what I think “hell” is – it is a painful process of healing. What we should fear, is not “hell”, but harming others – for harming others and hell are the very same thing – hell is just getting to experience that harm for ourselves. Viewed in this way, the distinction between “attrition” and “contrition” gets collapsed – how can I fear the pain I cause others and not hate that pain in itself?


Currently, I’m re-exploring the Catholic route option. It stems from a medical condition…which would make fasting difficult - before communion. Since I’m still in the RCIA, here’s what I sent - in part - to the director:

Here’s an article regarding a convert to Catholicism from Orthodoxy at Christ is the Light of East and West: One Man’s Search for the Apostolic Faith. You have my permission, to share any email communications with Catholic clergy. As long as they maintain, the confidence of my sharing. They might have some insight for me. As well as you do. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has no known modern medicine cure. And neither does the left eye / brain paralysis I’m experiencing. And I have tried to treat both conditions, by Tibetan medicine, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Homeopathy. None of these options, has had a permanent effect. And nothing in modern medicine, has had any dent – in determining a root cause. I’m a bit disappointed, at the Orthodox priest’s response. He could have said let’s try the sacrament of healing. Or if there is a living person now, considered an Orthodox saint – let me speak to him or her. Like the person in the article, I find much beauty – in Orthodox church worship. But I would appreciate a bit more compassion, from the Orthodox clergy. Maybe they have no clue, regarding diseases that have no known cause or cure – currently by western medicine.


I’d be interested in their response, if you get one. You make some good points.


Yes, Dave. It might take a few days. But I’ll share any Catholic response. At least, their general points. I am happy I hung around, with the Orthodox church - via the OCA branch. And I will keep the elements of Holy Foolery and Theosis, even if I become Catholic. And if I become Catholic, then I would chiefly embrace Franciscan theology - like Fr. Richard Rohr does.


Your thoughts on the current Pope?


I really like Pope Francis. But he (and the other cardinals and bishops)…need to do a better job, of handling the clergy abuse crisis. But from reading articles on the Patheos Catholic and Evangelical sites, this is also happening…with the Southern Baptist organization.

On the other hand, the Orthodox have their own set of problems. With the heads of the Russian and Greek church, excommunicating each other - over Greece recognition of Ukraine church independence. The wise course for me now…is to tell the Orthodox, I will try their fasting rules - as best as I can. But have dialogues with the RCIA director and clergy - regarding it. And finish the RCIA program.

As an aside, my medical history bears out - what I told the EO and RC priests. It shows I did make the complaint, to a primary care physician - regarding the brain / eye paralysis. I did have a brain MRI (actually 2 ) done. I did consult an ophthalmologist, radiologist, and a urologist, regarding my problem. And I was diagnosed with Anemia, in the past 2 years. And while I did get the iron level back up…there were still issues - in the blood work - with iron binding.

And even if I become Catholic…I’ll still see the world, through Eastern Catholic and Franciscan, theological frameworks.


I would prefer to answer the question, “Is postmortem punishment compatible with the God whose essence is LOVE?”

If by “punishment” one means “penaltly” or “retribution” the answer is “No.”

If by “punishment” one means “correction” the answer is “Yes.” Such correction is the very expression of LOVE. A loving human father corrects his son. If he didn’t but just let his son run wild, that would demonstrate a LACK of love.